Prayer and personal revelation are both part of the communication process between Heavenly Father and His children here on earth. Prayer takes place when we speak to Heavenly Father, and He speaks to us through personal revelation.
The interesting thing about the way that Heavenly Father speaks to His children is that He personalizes its communication. He speaks to His children through the power of the Holy Ghost in a way that they can each understand. I have received unsolicited information from the Spirit in dreams. I was told in dreams when each of my parents was dying. I did not recognize the prompting about my mother, but sixteen years later I clearly knew by a dream that my father was dying. In the period of time between the dream and the telephone call confirming it, I did laundry and made preparations to get on an airplane. I was ready to leave within twelve hours of the phone call because I recognized the prompting.
I have received unsolicited information in other ways. This information often comes early in the morning just as I am awaking. Early one morning I awoke with this message, “The Holy Ghost loves you.” This was new information to me because I had never considered whether He loves me or not. I know that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ love each of us, and now I know that the Holy Ghost also loves us. It was important for me to have that information on that particular day because I was teaching a lesson about the Holy Ghost to my Primary class of five-year-old children. I could testify to them that the Holy Ghost loves them. I did, and I was pleasantly surprised to know that they already knew that He loves them.
There are times when I go to Heavenly Father with a problem and ask for help. At times He gives me a direct answer to my question. Other times, He requires me to do some homework first. Lord gives instructions on how to gain personal revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Yea, behold I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2).
Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; …” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9).
I have received personal revelation without asking for it, and I have pleaded for answers for long times before receiving answers. I have found it helpful to ask questions that can be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” I have asked questions, such as the following: “Should I take a class this semester?” and “Am I living the way Thou would have me live?” I usually get an answer fairly quickly with this time of question. However, an answer does not come quickly – or at all – when I asked questions, such as this one: “What would Thou have me do to solve this problem?”
Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that personal revelation can come suddenly – like flipping a light switch in a dark room, or gradually – like the rising sun.
Revelations are conveyed in a variety of ways, including, for example, dreams, visions, conversations with heavenly messengers, and inspiration. Some revelations are received immediately and intensely; some are recognized gradually and subtly. The two experiences with light I described help us to better understand these two basic patterns of revelation.
A light turned on in a dark room is like receiving a message from God quickly, completely, and all at once. Many of us have experienced this pattern of revelation as we have been given answers to sincere prayers or been provided with needed direction or protection, according to God’s will and timing. Descriptions of such immediate and intense manifestations are found in the scriptures, recounted in Church history, and evidenced in our own lives. Indeed, these mighty miracles do occur. However, this pattern of revelation tends to be more rare than common.
The gradual increase of light radiating from the rising sun is like receiving a message from God “line upon line, precept upon precept” (2 Nephi 28:30). More frequently, revelation comes in small increments over time and is granted according to our desire, worthiness, and preparation. Such communications from Heavenly Father gradually and gently “distil upon [our souls] as the dews from heaven” (D&C 121:45). This pattern of revelation tends to be more common than rare and is evident in the experiences of Nephi as he tried several different approaches before successfully obtaining the plates of brass from Laban (see 1 Nephi 3-4). Ultimately, he was led by the Spirit to Jerusalem, “not knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). And he did not learn how to build a ship of curious workmanship all at one time; rather, Nephi was shown by the Lord “from time to time after what manner [he] should work the timbers of the ship” (1 Nephi 18:1).
I know Elder Bednar’s words to be true. I have received personal revelation so suddenly and without warning that it was as though a light switch had been flipped. I have also received personal revelation that came over a period of time. I feel certain that I have missed many loving messages from Heavenly Father because I was not paying enough attention or was unprepared in other ways.
President Russell M. Nelson taught that we can develop the ability to receive revelation, or “grow into the principle of revelation.” As he taught this principle he included a short quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith to prove the point.
Pray in the name of Jesus Christ about your concerns, your fears, your weaknesses – yes, the very longings of your heart. And then listen! Write the thoughts that come to your mind. Record your feelings and follow through with actions that you are prompted to take. As you repeat this process day after day, month after month, year after year, you will “grow into the principle of revelation” [Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith , 132].
I am grateful for the opportunity to kneel in prayer – or be in any other position – and speak with Heavenly Father. I am grateful for my testimony that He hears each prayer and answers it in the best way for us. Maybe the answer is “yes,” maybe it is “no,” and maybe it is “not yet.” Whatever the answer, I know that it is for my benefit.